This Day in the Civil War

Tuesday Nov. 5 1861

A common misperception is that Gen. Robert E. Lee was the saintly and beloved leader of the Army of Northern Virginia from the beginning of the War until the surrender at Appomattox Court House. In fact, while Lee commanded Western Virginia troops during the first summer of the war, his record there was frankly unimpressive. He was still highly regarded, though, and his talents were not about to be allowed to go to waste. He was named today as the commander of a new Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and East Florida.

Wednesday Nov. 5 1862

“Little Mac”, Gen. George McClellan, had been the commander of the Army of the Potomac almost since the day it was formed. A talented politician, he had engineered the resignation of General of the Armies Halleck and taken his job. His true genius, though, had been in the organization and training of a mob of green civilians into the premier army of the Union at this stage. In return, the troops idolized him as the only leader they had ever known. It was a massive shock to commander and troops alike today when McClellan was unceremoniously fired by Abraham Lincoln, and replaced by Gen. Ambrose Burnside. McClellan, it was said, loved his troops so much he did not want to risk getting any of them killed by starting a battle. This was not Lincoln’s notion of how to restore the Union.

Thursday Nov. 5 1863

For more than a week now Federal forces had been shelling Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Scene of the first shots of the war, it was enduring a bombardment now that was almost unprecedented in warfare. On some days the incoming rounds had been hitting at the rate of two per minute, hour after hour after hour. Although the Confederates manning the installation were in little physical danger due to the existence of bombproof shelters inside the walls of the fort, the mental and psychological suffering was intense. Today the Atlantic Blockading Squadron joined its guns into the project to give the men of the shore batteries some rest. Admiral John Dahlgren, commanding, was examining the place through his telescope. “The only original feature left is the northeast face,” he wrote. “The rest is a pile of rubbish.”

Saturday Nov. 5 1864

The Confederate Naval assault on the Great Lakes entered its second phase today. The primary agent of this attack force was one John Y. Beall, who held the rating of Master in the Confederate States Navy. Beall had participated in a plot back in September to take over the USS Michigan, the gunboat in charge of guarding the prisoner-of-war camp on Lake Erie. That plot had fallen apart when some of the conspirators were arrested, but Beall was back for another round. This time he and a Southern sympathizer, Dr. James Bates, bought a steamer in Canada and tried to devise ways to use it to take over the “Michigan” again, with the intention of using the ship’s guns to shell lakeside cities. Once again the Union sentries were alert, and they never got close enough to the “Michigan” to set the plan in motion. Eventually, out of money, they had to take their proposed attack ship back to Canada and sell it to pay off their creditors.

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